Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ask Me a Question: Die Hard 2 w/ Steven E. de Souza

Last night The Arclight Presents screened Die Hard 2: Die Harder at the flagship Hollywood location.  I'd talked to the programmer there about some possible movie nights before the Van Damme Triple Dip and the opportunity arose for me to host when I secured screenwriter and director Steven E. de Souza as guest.  de Souza of course is responsible for bolstering the careers of Nick Nolte, Eddie Murphy, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis through massive hits like 48 Hours, Commando and Die Hard 1 &2.  He also wrote and/or directed Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles Judge Dredd, Street Fighter and Knock Off.  I knew he was an intelligent man with years of experience so stories we would not be lacking.  Mr. de Souza did not disappoint and we could have used an extra hour at least to dig deeper into his career.  Next time I guess...

Oh Die Hard 2, oh late 80's and early 90's action cinema.  From the opening blue titles that punch you in the face, DH2 is a big, loud, violent, funny and profanity laced good time.  We find John McClane, the hero from the Nakatomi Plaza hostages incident in L.A., in Washington, D.C. at the airport trying to pick up his wife Holly.  Turns out a band of disillusioned veterans turned highly skilled, ruthless terrorists are taking over the airport to insure the safe landing of a military leader.  Of course their plans don't go as smoothly when McClane gets involved.  Faxes, Twinkies, airplane phones, tasers, fistfights, gunfights, snow mobile chases, naked tai chi, one liners, ejector seat to avoid grenades, head butts and huge explosions ensue.  I couldn't tell you the last time I sat down to watch DH2 but I've always enjoyed it and never understood why fans of the series seemed to rag on it.  Director Renny Harlin keeps things moving in a sleek and bloody fashion while writers de Souza and Doug Richardson flip events and characters we saw in the first film to give audiences a similar experience but a new story.  Watching it on the big screen it was semi shocking to hear the amount of cursing involved along with seeing McClane smoke indoors as well as deliver lines in a 90's, "go fuck yourself" tone throughout.  Good ol' fashioned squib hits explode from every gunshot and the flick was LOUD.

Unlike the next three films, Die Hard 2 maintains a semblance of McClane's everyman appeal.  In part one he's never been in a limo, gets jet lag, is going through tough times with his wife, etc.  In part two we meet him as he's getting his car towed and he's not trying to save the world, he's just trying to save his wife. There's also a terrific supporting cast involved with Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton and Reginald VelJohnson reprising their roles from the first film as the wife, asshole journalist and supportive street cop. Familiar faces Franco Nero, William Sadler, John Amos, Dennis Franz, Art Evans, Fred Thompson are in the mix along with soon to be famous faces Robert Patrick, John Leguizamo and Colm Meaney in small parts. 

After the film, Mr. de Souza joined me for a Q&A that could have lasted several hours and I would have loved every minute of it:

- Been a professional writer since he was a senior in high school. Wrote pieces for magazines and newspapers then went to work at local TV station.
- Gave himself 90 days to make it in Los Angeles, armed with a sci-fi and a crime script, got them to an agent through a friend of a relative who returned them saying he was too busy to read them.
- In first week in L.A., got onto a game show, won a car and was listed in Variety, some kind of record.
- Importance of networking, never know who knows who or who sees what.
- Worked at Universal and Paramount on shows like Six Million Dollar Man & Knight Rider.
- Met Larry Gordon who liked his blend of action and comedy, cleaned up 48 Hours in three weeks.
- Writes for the actor, Nick Nolte was a slob and Eddie Murphy showed up to a meeting in a suit, put it in the movie instead of having Nolte get in shape like he was supposed to.
- No actor in mind, writes for classic stars like Spencer Tracy and Audrey Hepburn.
- Female actors loved to play characters with male names for some reason.
- Should be able to cover character name in a script and tell who is speaking, not just your own voice.
- Went to expensive lunch with agent who spurned him years earlier who was now trying to woo de Souza to join their company, de Souza waited until they paid the check and revealed the disparaging note.
- Larry Gordon working at Fox, studio head Barry Diller met Arnold Schwarzenegger and said he'd greenlight a $10 million dollar film on the spot.
- Found dust covered script for Commando, tailored it to Arnold, de Souza plotted it out like television, notes sent to production staff who started building sets.
- Arnold couldn't make a movie with his shirt on after the iconic Conan and Terminator so Commando was a welcome change.
- de Souza would run lines with neighbor Arnold who was taking singing lessons to learn the rhythm of native English speakers.  de Souza got so good at mimicking Arnold, some of his dubbed lines remain in final film.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme wouldn't run lines with de Souza, instead preferring to do so with his latest wife.  Would think he said "see you ladder" instead of "later" but actually said it correctly then would do it again and say the wrong word.  Called cut on his own movies even when someone else was directing.  Classic.
- Die Hard was another script lying around, McClane seen as wimpy because he was normal so Arnold, Stallone, James Caan, Burt Reynolds and Richard Gere passed.
- Willis had a deal with Fox so in desperation, was paid huge $5 million fee.
- de Souza and Willis are from same area in New Jersey and got along great, Yippie-Ki-Yay came from Roy Rogers show they both watched as kids.
- Monday after DH was released, got call that part 2 was a go.
- Again, found old script, 58 Minutes based on a novel and made it into Die Harder.
- Turned elements of first movie around so audiences wouldn't know what to expect.  The dick cop character becomes an ally, European terrorists become Americans, the Green Berets are actually bad guys...

It was a crazy Q&A and I didn't have to do much prodding as de Souza has stories for days from his 40 years as a professional writer.  We went from his high school years to the 90's and his peak of influence in 30 minutes.  de Souza was cool enough to hold court outside and answer questions.  I heard rumblings of Commando 2 not happening because Arnold got too expensive, Die Hard is NOT the sequel to Commando, The Running Man 2?  Sure, why not.

It was another great night, thanks to Justin and the staff at the Arclight and Zach from de Souza's team for making it happen and of course anyone who attended.

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